10 lessons for small business owners: ’90s rap music edition

When I started running my own small businesses almost six years ago, I wanted to learn as much as I could from industry experts and those around me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely learned plenty from all the people that have helped me along the way, something for which I’ll be eternally grateful.

But some lessons, you need to learn yourself, generally by making a tonne of mistakes.

While there have been many posts with lessons for small business owners. I thought I would change it up, make it a bit more relevant and give it a twist. Here are my top 10 lessons for business owners, with direct references to 90’s rap and hip hop classics!

“Don’t let ’em hold you down, reach for the stars”

The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy

At the beginning of Juicy, Biggie calls out all the people who doubted him in his journey to the rap hall of fame. When you’re starting your own small business, there’ll almost always be people who don’t believe in you. Use them as motivation rather than letting them bring you down. You know your goals are worthwhile. Don’t let other people’s opinions make you give them up.

It isn’t the same without your small business

Eminem – Without Me

Without Me is Eminem’s journey of realising that the rap game would be less without him. I definitely don’t belong in any rap game, but, I’ve always believed that the market or business that I’m involved in, wouldn’t be the same without me. This mentality has always helped me come back from failure and setbacks. When times get hard, remember that it just isn’t the same without you!

“That’s just the way it is”

2Pac – Changes

Changes, is about the systematic issues and class divide in the US. My personal takeaway from this song is that I’ve learned to know what I can change and what I can’t. During your journey, you’ll identify many problems, issues, and opportunities. Know how to differentiate between those that are easily changed and those that aren’t. Of course, dream big, but know that some improvements are gradual and take time!

As 2Pac says, “That’s just the way it is.”

Don’t let the “wasn’t me” mentality seep into your small business

Shaggy – It Wasn’t Me

I’ve had to learn this one the hard way; keeping your team accountable is a must! Don’t let the culture of “It Wasn’t Me” seep into your culture. This will lead to riffs that will destroy team trust. Denying till the very end (like Shaggy’s mate), is not the way to go. Make sure you take ownership of mistakes (and quickly) and lead from the front on this one.

“We roll wit’ no regrets”

Nas – Suspect

My favourite lyric from Suspect is, “We roll wit’ no regrets.” The whole “no regrets” message has become a bit of an overused cliché. However, I’ve interpreted it a bit differently. You should be accountable for everything that has failed in your small business, all the wrong decisions and the bad times. You should remember them, use them to inform your new decisions, but you shouldn’t dwell on them. Instead, find out why you failed, learn from it and keep rolling.

Momentum is everything in small businesses

Nas – N.Y. State of Mind

Another iconic lyric from Nas, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death”. To be clear, I do recommend actual sleeping, and as much as possible. However, don’t sleep too much. Keep momentum in mind and don’t sit still. This is a state of mind and it will drive your team to focus on goals.

Surround yourself with a team you trust and has your back

Warren G – Regulate

Having a team that has your back will make or break your business. In Regulate, Nate is prepared to save Warren G’s life. The equivalent for startup founders is a core team that sees your vision and can execute on it. Communicate openly with your team and make sure they can trust you.

Enjoy the wins, a loss is around the corner

Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day

Probably my favourite song on the list. “It Was A Good Day”, is about Ice reciting a ‘perfect’ day in his life. He lists all the good things that happen to him, from having a solid breakfast, not being bothered by the police and playing some b-ball. Unfortunately, the video clip ends with the police raiding his house at night. The lesson here is simple. When you are winning, enjoy the wins. There is always the possibility of a loss around the corner. Just like for Ice Cube, it was a good day until it wasn’t.

Know what you want to be when you grow up

Snoop Dogg – G’z And Hustlaz

Personally, I interpreted G’z And Hustlaz as a reminder to stay true to your vision. Undoubtedly, you’ll face things when going through the journey that’ll take you further away from what you wanted to be at the beginning. Revisit the question of, “Who you want to be when you grow up?” Ask yourself what you wanted your small business to look like when you started. Snoop has a great answer to this question in the intro of this song. 😉

Differentiate your small business from competitors

Dr. Dre – What’s the Difference (feat. Eminem & Xzibit)

Keep asking, “What’s the difference between me and you?” In the same way that you have to differentiate yourself to stand out in the rap game, you have to differentiate yourself to stand out against competitors in business. You hear it all the time but it’s something that’s easy to forget as a business owner, especially when you get caught up in trying to put out fires and manage operations.

Remember to come back to your value proposition regularly. Consider external factors and think about whether your business still has a strong point of differentiation. Ask yourself, why would a customer come to you over a competitor? Your differentiating factors need to be communicated clearly and loudly. Keep asking “What’s the difference between me and you?”

Final words on lessons for small business owners

If you’re a small business owner with a love for 90’s rap (like me), I hope this article was valuable to you. As a small business owner, it’s important to be constantly learning. There are lessons that can be applied to business in all areas of life, whether it be the songs you listen to, the shows you watch or the stories you’re told.

About the author

Pedram Afshar is an entrepreneur specialising in creating innovative technology solutions across several industries. He has launched and managed several successful technology businesses.

He brings a practical approach to tech development, concentrating on industries/solutions that he understands and has had personal experience in dealing with.